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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (13) – Exploring the Catlins

A bright and early start

With just two nights’ accommodation in the region before we headed back to the mountains, we had a lot we wanted to pack into this day. Fortunately the day dawned bright with good weather, which always helps. Our plans included a walk to a waterfall, trying to visit the sealion colony at Surat Bay, and a visit to the Nugget Point lighthouse, as well as hopefully having a bit of time to relax (not much chance of that with another “Paul-itinerary” to follow. The map shows the relative locations of the different sites, and for once the scale was all rather more reasonable!

Matai Falls

Before going any further. we need to talk about birds in New Zealand. Many of the birds in NZ have names the same as birds back at home in the UK – robins, pigeons, etc. However, they are not the same birds. The New Zealand wood pigeon is massive, stunningly coloured, and really very beautiful, if somewhat lumbering through the air. We’d already seen one in Queenstown, but that was in captivity. Here, just by the carpark for the Matai Falls walk, we got to see one in the wild. And, for once, i managed a photo of its face, and one that was in focus too! The other lovely thing about the local birdlife, is that their songs are so different from those back at home – it was wonderful to walk through the woodland and hear really different sounds.

The falls themselves are easily accessible along a gentle woodland track. The real delight about the Catlins, however, is that in the more gentle countryside there, there are more different things for tourists to do, and hence it is possible to get a bit more peace and quiet than on some of the short tracks in remoter areas. Whilst we did see other people, it was much less busy than some other walks we’d done.

Surat Bay – miles and miles of sand

Following our shady walk (Mrs T needs lots of shade), we ventured out to brave the sunshine. We’d read about the important sea lion colony at Surat Bay. The bay itself is named after a ship wrecked there on the first day of 1874. However, my usual luck of seeing wild animals was back and we didn’t spy a single sea lion or any other large sea creatures (I once went on an all-day whale watching trip near Santa Barbara, CA, which offered a free ticket for a repeat trip if you didn’t see whales – three days of my life later i headed to the airport to return home, along with a fairly useless free ticket for another day’s whale-watching, and precisely no whales seen!!). However, even with no sea lines, the beach at Surat is truly magnificent – vast tracts of sand, beautiful blue seas, and as well as being bereft of sea lions, it was completely deserted.

Of course, what do you do when at a sea lion colony with no sea lions to see? Well, we took off our shoes (which to be honest were looking a bit tired by this stage in the trip), and enjoyed the feel of the sand between our toes! We also enjoyed taking photographs, and finding the sign-post which shows you the direction of the wreck out in the bay. Incidentally, those deck shoes of mine were pretty much all i wore for the whole trip – i’d spent literally hours with a toothbrush to remove every last speck of dirt from my walking boots (to ensure no contamination would be brought in with them), and then never used them once!

Nugget Point

Nugget Point consists of a promontory with cliff-top light house, surrounded by various rocky islets, on the coast of Otago, not far from Kaka Point. Having failed to spot any sea lions at Surat Bay, and with only the blurry shots of the penguins from the evening before, I wasn’t hopeful that my luck for wildlife photography was going to change. However, we did get a decent view of what i think is a seal on the beach (the road from Kaka Point to Nugget Point hugs the coastline for much of its length), and a few more of seals beneath the cliffs – showing the outstanding size of the sea weed in this area. Nugget point is certainly scenic and dramatic, but there isn’t a vast amount to explore in terms of getting any distance from the carpark (and hence the other visitors and the motorhomes!).


As the evening drew in, there remained time to head back to Kaka Point for a bit of a wander on the beach. Having seen some other tourists going for the full lobster look, we decided that a stroll, and a bit of a jump around, would be a better option than heading into the sea! Also, the moon came out (we’d had a lot of nice weather, but not many clear nights) and of course it looks the other way up in the Southern hemisphere, so that was very exciting!

We particularly enjoyed seeing the mailboxes all lined up – we’d seen some earlier in the day that had clearly been made out of anything available – one of them was an old microwave on a pole!

A final relax at Molyneux House, and we’d be setting off for another long driving day the next day – via Dunedin and then back towards the Southern Alps, for a night in a remote farm stay, complete with waving Queen Elizabeth II!!

As a final note, if anyone wants to explain how to tell the difference between Sea lions and fur seals, please do enlighten me!